Les Miles very nearly sealed his own fate and other Saturday thoughts

TUSCALOOSA, AL - NOVEMBER 07:  Head coach Les Miles of the Louisiana State University Tigers against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium on November 7, 2009 in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

There have been rumblings in Louisiana that Les Miles has worn out his welcome as coach at LSU. Some have written this off as ridiculous — “He won a national title in 2007!” — but Saturday night was a harsh reminder of why the LSU faithful have lost a lot of, um, faith, in Miles.

The Tigers survived Saturday night in a 30-24 win against half of North Carolina’s team. And it really wasn’t even the good half. Worse still is that LSU very nearly blew a 30-10 lead in the fourth quarter to do it.

Give a lot of credit to the North Carolina players who know the NCAA rules. They played with a lot of heart down the stretch and were two dropped passes and a probably-missed pass interference call away from winning a game nobody gave them a chance in.

But the story here is Miles and the Tigers nearly blowing the game. The Tigers failed to put the game away, and star defensive back Patrick Peterson’s postgame quote said a ton. When asked why he wasn’t on the field for a 97-yard touchdown pass that gave North Carolina life, Peterson responded, “I guess he thought we had a comfortable lead.”

The “he” in that sentence is defensive backs coach Ron Cooper, but how does that decision not go through Miles? If it doesn’t, it should. The head coach doesn’t need to micro-manage his assistants, but he does need to make sure his best players are on the field while the game is still in any kind of doubt. Miles needs to at the very least contend for an SEC title this year, or it could be his last.

Now some other thoughts on the first Saturday of college football.

– Perhaps in all of the excitement over Jeremiah Masoli and his eligibility, Ole Miss forgot to prepare for its opponent on Saturday, Jacksonville State. The FCS team pulled off the stunning upset on a sloppy, yet completely effective, two-point conversion attempt. And that followed a miracle 30-yard touchdown pass from freshman Coty Blanchard to Kevyn Cooper on fourth-and-15. Jacksonville State scored on five of its final six possessions. For those that watch college football regularly, it’s the later part of the game where the bigger program starts to pull away, not totally collapse. It could be a long year for Houston Nutt and the Rebels.

– Notre Dame got a win in Brian Kelly’s debut, but not in the way that one would have expected. The Irish beat Purdue 23-12, and did it with defense. Will that be a trend? Probably not, but who knows. Remember that the Irish shut out a very good Nevada offense in their opener a year ago and then went on to give up a school record in average total yards throughout the season. I think defensive coordinator Bob Diaco has done some good things, though, and the fact that the Irish defense was as solid as it was when it was protecting an eight-point lead is encouraging for Notre Dame fans. It was a common site in recent years to see the Irish defense gassed late in games, and that showed up on the scoreboard. The star of yesterday’s game for Notre Dame, however, might have been defensive backs coach Chuck Martin, who had the Irish defensive backs looking like actual collegiate defensive backs.

– It turns out taking over for a star quarterback isn’t that easy. Garrett Gilbert and John Brantley each had their struggles Saturday as they ushered in new eras at their respective schools. Gilbert, who was thrown into the fire at Texas in last year’s national title game, wasn’t sharp in the Longhorns 34-17 win against Rice. He was 14-for-23 for 172 yards and no touchdowns (no interceptions, either). That’s not exactly what Texas fans are used to after the Colt McCoy era. I touched on Florida’s offensive struggles yesterday, and I’d like to reiterate that Brantley wasn’t that bad. But he wasn’t that good, either, against a defense that is vastly inferior to what he’ll be seeing throughout the year in the SEC. Gilbert and Brantley are young yet and will probably develop into good quarterbacks. But they aren’t going to be McCoy and Tebow. The sooner they — and their fans — realize that, the better off everybody will be.

– Yesterday’s MVP? Not Michigan super-speedster Denard Robinson or Oregon running back Kenjon Barner. Nope. My vote goes to the Oregon Duck. He did 506 push-ups yesterday as Oregon racked up 72 points against New Mexico. Someone deserves an ice bath.

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